Affordable Care Act Open Enrollment Is Finally Here

By Paul Gaita 11/02/17

From now until December 15th, you can sign up for health insurance by visiting Healthcare.gov.

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Though President Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress have toiled long and hard to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—to no avail, as of this writing—health coverage known as Obamacare still exists and is open for enrollment as of November 1.

The enrollment season runs through December 15, which gives those in need of health coverage a much smaller window than in the recent past—and efforts by the GOP to obfuscate any information about enrollment may reduce that time by even further.

A feature in Fortune recently noted that decisions by the Trump administration to cut important subsidies to pay out-of-pocket costs for low-income individuals and roll back requirements for insurance companies will most likely reduce the number of Americans enrolling for individual health care insurance in 2018.

But for many individuals—those that don't have insurance through an employer, through Medicaid or Medicare, or those who need substance dependency and mental health treatment, which is covered to varying degrees under the ACA—living without health coverage is not an option, and the ACA remains a necessity to them.

Here's how you can enroll:

Coverage through the ACA can be obtained by visiting Healthcare.gov. As Fortune notes, some states have their own ACA sites, but the federal site allows access to those as well. Coverage obtained during the open enrollment period begins on January 1, 2018, but in some circumstances—loss of a job or existing coverage, relocation, or if your income is low enough to qualify for medical care—you may be able to qualify for a special enrollment period outside of the normal enrollment window.

Open enrollment ends on December 15, 2017 in most states—though again, some may extend the deadline so it's best to check your state's Department of Health website to see if the additional time is available to you.

Additionally, Affordable Care Act premiums will increase for 2018. Federal data has shown that the cost of benchmark silver plans will rise 37%, and individuals who earn a certain income level will largely have to contend with those increased prices. But as Fortune explained, Trump's apparent attempt to cap Obamacare at the knees by cutting off subsidies to insurance companies has actually made health coverage for lower-income individuals somewhat more affordable.

Even though Trump has decided to cut those payments, insurance companies—which receive the subsidies in exchange for lowering out-of-pocket costs for individuals or families who purchase a silver ACA plan and earn up to 250% of the Federal Poverty Level—are still required to offer those lower costs to qualifying customers.

As a result of that requirement, many participating insurers raised silver plan premiums for 2018. Where that pays forward for low-income consumers is in federal tax credits, which are available to individuals who between 100% and 400% of the Federal Poverty Level qualify for federal tax credits that will help them pay their monthly tax credit.

The lower the income level, the higher the tax credit—and since the credit level is based on the average, not increased cost of benchmark silver, customers who qualify for assistance will receive even greater subsidies.

However, it's important to note that plans with lower premiums may also come with higher deductibles and yearly maximum out-of-pocket payments.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites. 

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